Senate Chambers
Senate Chambers

The Hawaii state legislature opens today at 10 a.m. with speeches by the majority and minority leaders in both the House and the Senate.

For those who can’t attend, the speeches will be broadcast on Olelo television.

There will be many battles this session over everything from how the state spends the $844 million surplus Gov. Neil Abercrombie announced in recent weeks, to housing and development policies that will shape Hawaii’s landscapes.

State lawmakers will consider how much of the state’s $25 billion in unfunded liabilities – such as the state retirement system and public employees medical care – to pay down.

Genetically modified organisms – and whether to require a statewide labeling policy for food rather than allow separate county ordinances – is a passionately debated issue that will take center stage this year.

Hawaii and Kauai counties have passed anti GMO ordinances in recent months. The Maui County mayor addressed the issue as well.

On Kauai, three agro-chemical companies have sued to block the law. Activists on the neighbor islands are concerned Gov. Neil Abercrombie will try to overturn their legislation in favor of a statewide bill that isn’t effective.

Senate Judiciary and Labor Chair Clayton Hee is among the lawmakers who will push for a minimum wage increase.

Last session, the bill to increase the minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $9 an hour failed in the final days of the session.

Hee wants workers to receive $10.10 an hour.

Small business owners have testified that they can’t afford the increase, and will have to stop hiring new workers or lay off workers.

However, so-called “living wage” activists are organized this year, circulating petitions and holding rallies, in an effort to get their legislation passed.

Hawaii is among the states rated the worst place in the country to do business. Hawaii also has the highest cost of living and the highest cost of doing business in the nation.

Hawaii has a growing labor and sex trafficking problem, and advocates will also make a push to strengthen the state’s trafficking laws.